About Last Night
About Last Night: How Friday impacted playoff picture
Top teams in West still tied as Denver wins and Warriors lose in last second
Khari Arnold, NBA.com
“I’m checking (the playoff seeding) after every game,” Blazers guard Damian Lillard said following Friday’s road victory over the Hawks. “I’m looking at it every day. If it’s a day we don’t play, I’m looking at who won and who lost. All that. I’m watching everything.”
So are we, Damian.
Each night brings new developments to the playoff picture. More changes were bound to happen on a six-game slate featuring at least one playoff contender in all of them.
So, let’s look at “who won and who lost. All that.” And then some.
The most eventful game — and finish; more on that below — of the night came in Minnesota, where the Timberwolves held on in overtime to shock Golden State. At 51-24, the Warriors are again tied with Denver for first place in the Western Conference. (The Warriors do hold the tiebreaker, thanks to their 2-1 head-to-head record.)
No team has clinched a specific seed, so no matchups have officially been locked. However, you can virtually assume that Indiana and Boston will face off in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Who will hold home court is the question that looms, an advantage the Celtics now claim after Kyrie Irving’s game-winner moved them ahead of the Pacers and into fourth place. Both teams meet again on April 5, when Indiana will attempt to even the season series.
Oklahoma City sat just two games behind Denver for the No. 2 spot in the West at the All-Star break. On Friday, the Nuggets knocked off the Thunder and pushed their Northwest division foe down to eighth place. It was another potential playoff matchup, one Oklahoma City should hope to avoid after being swept by Denver in the regular season. The Nuggets again moved into a tie with the Warriors for first in the West, while simultaneously denying the Thunder a chance to clinch a playoff berth.
The Trail Blazers are now riding a league-best six-game winning streak. It’s been two games since they lost starting center Jusuf Nurkic to a gruesome leg injury. The Blazers have convincingly won both contests — oddly enough, by the same 118-98 score — but given that they’ve both come against lottery-bound teams, it’s still unclear what life will be like in the postseason. At the very least, Portland moved a half game ahead of Houston for third in the West.
Donovan Mitchell dropped 35 points to lift Utah to its ninth win in the last 10 games. The Jazz still have a chance, albeit a slim one, at attaining home court in the Western Conference’s first round, sitting two games behind the Rockets for fourth place with six games remaining.
Kemba Walker has yet to win a game when going head to head against LeBron James — not once in the regular season, playoffs or even All-Star Game. That combined 0-for-29 drought continued at Staples Center as Los Angeles pulled away from Charlotte. The Hornets, however, are the team that still has playoff hopes, which took a hit after their road setback. Charlotte is now two games behind Miami for the final playoff spot in the East with seven games remaining.
Wolves win after wild finish
When the clock hit zero in the Timberwolves’ win over the Warriors, you could already hear the cacophony of complaints that would emanate from the Golden State locker room.
The Warriors used terms like “embarrassing” and “mind-boggling” to describe the officiating in their 131-130 loss, a game that included two late calls that didn’t go in their favor.
With 4.4 seconds remaining and Golden State down 130-127, referee Marat Kogut blew his whistle as Kevin Durant drilled what appeared to be the game-tying 3-pointer. Kogut, however, ruled that Durant had been fouled before beginning his shooting motion.
The Warriors tempered their frustration and inbounded the ball to Stephen Curry on the next possession, when he sank the game-tying triple from the corner with less than a second remaining.
Double overtime appeared to be in the works, but the additional extra period never occurred as more drama unfolded: Durant was called for a foul after holding Towns on the ensuing inbound pass with just 0.5 seconds left. Towns then hit the first of two free throws to seal the win.
Afterwards, Durant called Kogut “the best player on the floor tonight,” while Curry sarcastically dubbed Kogut “the MVP of tonight.”
It should be noted that a different official, Leon Wood, whistled Durant for the foul on Towns. Durant’s assessment of the call: “Leon, you just gotta get out the way at that point.”
Durant and Curry might soon be getting out their checkbooks.
Lillard vs. Young
Lillard poured in 36 points and seven assists in a matchup between two of the hottest offenses since the All-Star break.
Portland ranked first in offensive efficiency and Atlanta led the league in points per game coming into Friday’s contest. A substantial amount of that success is due to the play of each team’s point guard. Lillard’s counterpart, Kia Rookie of the Year candidate Trae Young, continued his blazing form with 26 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in the loss.
The two playmakers staged an intriguing duel in State Farm Arena. Both of them scored 18 points in the first half — numbers that encapsulate how similar their stats have looked since the All-Star break.
Here’s a comparison snapshot heading into Friday’s matchup.
The Hawks 20-year-old rookie is putting up numbers equal to an All-NBA star. He’s progressed tremendously since his rough start to season, and he’s certainly progressed since this photograph was taken:
Lillard says Young was in eighth grade at the time of the picture, and he praised the first-year phenom after the game.
“There’s a difference between a beginning of the season and right now,” Lillard said. “I think it shows that he’s a smart point guard. He’s figuring things out. You’re seeing his true confidence. You’re seeing his basketball IQ, and his feel for the game is showing up late in the season.”
Speaking of point guards …